God Our Redeemer
What comes out of the back end of a cow stinks. It is gross and we don’t want to step in it or get it on ourselves. If we do, everyone smells it and avoids us. Can anything good come out of that stinky mess?
For $39.95 you can get a cow pie clock. Is that making something beautiful out of a stinky mess? I am not sure I would want one of those hanging in my living room, but God does something even better. If you take that manure and mix it into the soil of your garden and plant flowers, the flowers will grow well and a beautiful thing will come out of that which stinks and is gross.
That is what God does and what God is like. We sometimes use a term for manure to express how we feel about a situation. God can take the crap of our life and redeem situations and make something beautiful out of them.
I. Stories of God’s Redemption
There are many stories in the Bible and in life which illustrate this point.
One day Jacob gave his son Joseph a special coat. The importance of the coat was that it showed that he did not have to do hard work, but was a special person. His brothers noticed the favoritism, which existed because Joseph was the son of his favorite wife, Rachel. They began to hate Joseph because of that. Then one day Joseph had dreams in which he dreamt that the sun and moon and 11 stars all bowed down to him. When he told his family, that didn’t help matters at all and his brothers became even angrier with him.
One day when his brothers were looking after the sheep some distance away from home, Jacob sent Joseph to check up on them. When they saw him coming, they began to figure out a way in which they could get rid of him, that is how much they hated him. They decided that they would kill him and then dip his coat in animal blood and bring it to their father and show him that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. One of the brothers didn’t want to do that and so they put him in a pit and when some slave traders came by they sold him into slavery. Then they did take the bloody coat to their father and Jacob thought that his favorite son was dead.
That is how Joseph got to Egypt and began to serve Potiphar as a household slave. He did so well that soon he was in charge of all the other slaves. But Potiphar’s wife tried to entice Joseph into committing adultery with her and one day she caught him and tried to trap him, but he ran away leaving his coat with her. She was embarrassed and accused him of trying to rape her and Potiphar got mad and put him in prison. What a mess he got into! He went from being a favored son to a slave to a prisoner in a foreign land. Can anything good come out of this?
Well, as you may remember, while in prison, Joseph had interpreted some dreams for some of Pharaoh’s servants and asked them to remember him before Pharaoh. They forgot until another two years had passed by. Then Pharaoh had some dreams and suddenly his chief cup bearer remembered Joseph. He was called before Pharaoh and before he knew it Joseph had become second in command in the whole land in charge of food storage and distribution.
When the famine, which Pharaoh had dreamed about, struck, it also hit Jacob and his sons in their land. They went to Egypt to get food, and can you imagine the thoughts going through Joseph’s mind when he saw his brothers? Yet he did not seek revenge and he did not try to hurt them for the hurt they had caused him. He knew what God was like and that God is able to bring blessing out of what looks like an evil mess. Years later when their father died, the brothers were fearful that now Joseph would retaliate for his brother’s evil deeds. But Joseph said to them in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Because of the whole sequence of events including the evil done to Joseph by his brothers, the family was preserved through the years of famine. The effect of this evil could very likely also have caused an even more important blessing. It was in Egypt that this little family grew to a large nation, away from the evil influences in Canaan. Four hundred years later they had become a great nation and then they returned to the Promised Land. God truly was able to take something bad and make it into something good.
Wenham says, “…through sinful men God works out his saving purposes.”
B. Genealogy in Matthew
This is not by any means the only story like this.
There is a story in the Old Testament that involves a number of injustices and moral evils. It is the story of Tamar. Judah, another of the sons of Jacob, was married and had three sons. The oldest son was married to Tamar, but he died. As was custom, the second son was given to Tamar to raise offspring for his brother. That is how things were done on those days and this was an important obligation. The second son of Judah, however, refused to fulfill this obligation and God punished him and he died. The third son was younger and Judah told Tamar to live with her parents until that son was old enough to fulfill the obligation. However, Judah never carried through with this promise and Tamar realized what was happening. When Judah was in the area where her parents lived looking after his sheep, Tamar pretended she was a prostitute and slept with Judah. He did not recognize her because she had a veil on. Later, when Judah found out that his daughter-in-law was pregnant, he was very angry and demanded her death. When it was revealed that he was the one who had gotten her pregnant, he realized that she had been holding him accountable to his promise. Out of this pregnancy twins were born to her. What a mess! It is a story of evil men failing to fulfill promises. It is a story of adultery, prostitution and incest. Can anything good come out of such a mess?
Another story which took place years later involves Naomi who in a time of poverty went with her husband and two sons into the land of Moab during a time of drought and famine. There her two sons were married to Moabite women. After a time, her husband and her two sons died and Naomi was left with her two daughter-in-laws. One returned to her parents, but Ruth remained with Naomi. What a tragedy this story represents. To be a widow, in poverty in those days was not only terrible because you were vulnerable, having no man to defend you. It was also difficult because you had no means of support. Naomi and Ruth returned to the land of Judah, but even there they continued in poverty. As well, we need to realize that Ruth would forever be an outcast. Deuteronomy 23:3 says that, “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord…” She and her descendants for ten generations could not go to worship God in the temple. What a mess! Can anything good come out of such a story?
A number of years later we have another story of trouble. David was king and one year when his army went to war, he stayed home. While looking out from the roof of his palace he noticed a very beautiful woman bathing. He desired her, called for her and had sex with her. When he found out that she was pregnant, he called for her husband, who was engaged in the battle, to come home, hoping that he would lie with his wife and the pregnancy could be attributed to him. Uriah didn’t do it, however, stating that he could not dishonor his vow as a soldier in order to enjoy his wife. In response, David sent a message with Uriah to the commander to put him in the most dangerous position so that he would die in battle. Now Bathsheba was a widow and David took her as his wife. The child born to them died because of the evil which David had done. Here was a man whom God called a “man after my heart” who did such a terrible thing. It is a story of adultery and murder and is a terrible mess and a very clear evil. Can anything good come out of such a mess?
In the gospel of Matthew, in the first chapter, we have a genealogy which describes the background of Jesus. In this genealogy there are only 4 women mentioned. Three of them are those we have mentioned in the stories above. One who acted as a prostitute, one who was a foreigner and one who was an adulteress. Jesus came from this background. It is another way in which we see that God takes mess and brings something good out of it.
The greatest story of redemption and blessing which comes out of evil is the story of Jesus. What evil we see when Jesus was secretly arrested, falsely accused, mercilessly beaten and cruelly hung on a cross. What a mess! Can anything good come out of this mess? Satan was doing all he could to destroy the work of God and when Jesus was killed, it may have looked like he had won. Yet that was God’s plan. It is precisely out of that evil and because of the evil, that God has given us the beauty of the story of redemption which has brought forgiveness, blessing, hope and eternal life to anyone who receives it. After an incident of persecution in the early church the believers recognized in Acts 4:27, 28, “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” What was it that “should happen?” Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Amber Eidse wrote the following on her blog recently:
“I took the above photo of Hailey last summer. At the time, I was kind of disappointed with the blurry shot, it wasn't what I was going for at all! I discarded it and for many months I forgot about it. Then one day I came across this quote: "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain."
“I immediately thought about that photo of Hailey holding the umbrella. I located it and put the two together. After all that time, the discarded 'blurry' shot finally had a purpose and I could use it to make something beautiful. Something that had meaning and gave me joy. Isn't that how God uses certain circumstances in life? At the time, things aren't what we had hoped for and aren't happening the way we imagined. But, days, weeks, months or even years later we can see that there was a purpose and there was beauty that came.”
II. What God Is Like
All of these stories point in the same direction. God is able to take that which is not good and redeem it for good. There is a verse in the Bible which speaks about this. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” But we need to be very careful about how we interpret this verse.
A. This Does Not Mean:
We need to understand what this verse does not mean.
It does not mean that bad is a blessing or that evil is good. What Joseph’s brothers did to him was evil and can never be anything but evil. What David did to Bathsheba and Uriah was wrong and it was punished as sin. We can never say that it was a good thing. What Pilate and the Jewish leaders, indeed what we did to Jesus on the cross was the greatest evil in the world and we can never see it as anything but evil.
I once heard someone facetiously rejoice that something bad had happened because of the hope that God would turn it into something good. That is not what is intended here. When people do wrong things to each other, they are still wrong. When storms bring devastation to lives, when planes fall out of the sky and disappear into the Atlantic Ocean, those are all terrible things. We cannot call them good. We cannot go glibly on. We live in a broken world and bad things happen in this broken world and we must give full weight to what happened and acknowledge the wrong of it.
However, we do not need to stop there. If we only acknowledge the evil and “cry over the spilt milk” we let evil win. The wrong and the evil must be fully acknowledged, but that is not the end of the story.
This verse also does not mean that there is a natural law in the world that inevitably moves towards good. Murphy’s law says that “if anything can go wrong, it will.” Many people have noted, from their experience a long list of related laws, like, “No matter how long or how hard you shop for an item, after you've bought it, it will be on sale somewhere cheaper.” “The other line always moves faster.” “When a broken appliance is demonstrated for the repairman, it will work perfectly.” “The clothes washer/dryer will only eat one of each pair of socks.” Or from Erma Bombeck "Anything dropped in the bathroom will fall in the toilet.” This verse does not challenge Murphy’s Law and declare another law that somehow things will always get better. This is not simply an optimistic statement, a glass half full statement. The end of the story is that there is someone in the universe who makes good happen!
B. This Does Mean:
So what does it mean?
It means that God is sovereign. The evil in the world and the wrong done in the world is not ultimately going to win. Murphy’s Law has a shelf life and eventually, because God is the Lord of this entire world, He will bring the world to the conclusion which He has determined. God has a plan, a plan which He revealed in the Garden of Eden and which He has been working on since ever since. It is a plan which will destroy evil and which will bring good.
It means that God is good. The evil which we see in the world and which we all experience is not what God intends to happen in the world. All evil and all wrong is not only a violation of God’s intentions, it is a polar opposite to His intentions. When God created the world He declared it good and that good is what is within the nature of God.
It means that God is powerful. Evil is not strong enough to overcome God. God is going to win in the end. God has the power to overcome.
It means that God is wise. He knows how to bring together pieces of a puzzle that seems like it can never be solved and He can bring it together in such a way that it is a blessing. Romans 11:33 declares, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”
It means that God is love and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. If we read further on in Romans 8 we discover that God’s love will always be there for those who are His. Romans 8:38, 39 says, For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It means, when it says, “all things” that this is always true of the way God works. John Piper says, “Paul is not saying all things work for good for Christians some of the time (when their love for God is strong), and all things don’t work for good for Christians some of the time (when their love for God is weak). He is saying that for Christians – the called, those whose hearts have been brought from enmity to love for God – all things work for good all the time.”
Therefore, God is able to make something good come out of any wrong or evil that occurs. As John Toews says, “God in Christ replaces fear, creation in travail, decay, frustration, groaning, and suffering with the revelation of the children of God, liberation from bondage and decay, glorification.”
Therefore, as John Toews further says, “God is on our side.”
Psalm 103:4 encourages us when we read, “Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies…”
C. For Those Who Love Him
We must however recognize that this promise is conditional. It is not a blanket statement that God will work everything out for everyone. The promise of God’s blessing and bringing good out of any situation is conditional and extended to those, as the verse says, “who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Everyone who is a follower of Jesus is a called person. Everyone who is a Christian is a person who has grasped that he or she is loved by God and loves God in return. This promise is for those who belong to God. They are the ones who can live with the confidence that God redeems suffering, difficulty and even evil and brings about His good purposes.
Sabrina Friesen wrote the following in her blog: “Do I seem to be doing too well? Because I have not been angry at God am I not really feeling? Is there an underlying assumption that being okay with the fact that our baby is with the Lord means I do not find this loss to be profound? Because I do not feel the need to ask God why in this process in no way minimizes the fact that it simply just sucks. The circumstance is terrible. Yet it is simply part of reality that in our world things go wrong in pregnancy, as well as in countless other circumstances, and so the why is not as significant for me. Because I have a clear understanding of how I believe God is (or is not) involved in this event, I do not feel the need to go there. Let me assure you, however, that although that question may not be on my lips that my heart still aches for this baby.”
I thought this was profound. It doesn’t gloss over the pain, but underneath there is a profound hope in a God who is trustworthy.
In the Life Principles Study Bible, in a piece written by Charles Stanley we read, “Sometimes God allows us to go through difficult times, even as a result of the wicked actions of others. Yet whatever we have to endure, no matter how unfair or unjust, we can be sure that God will use it for good.”
So if that is how God is, if that is what God does, how can we respond?
We can trust in the Lord. Psalm 3:5-10 says, "Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He's the one who will keep you on track. Don't assume that you know it all. Run to God! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health; your very bones will vibrate with life! Honor God with everything you own; give Him the first and the best."
We can live with hope. Paul saw how his imprisonment resulted in the spread of the gospel. He wrote in Philippians 1:12, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”
We can patiently wait upon the Lord. James 5:10, 11 encourages us, “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”